Already blamed for ‘widespread insect declines,’ neonicotinoid insecticides may threaten mammals, too

sugarbeetpellets
Seeds coated with a neonicotinoid insecticide. Credit: Germains

On an overcast January day in Estelline, South Dakota, Jonathan Lundgren zips his quilted jacket over a fleece, pulls down a wool cap, and crunches through the snow on Blue Dasher Farm to his barn, a milking parlor that he has kitted out as a biochemical laboratory.

Lundgren is an unusual hybrid: a working farmer interested in reforming that profession, and a working scientist, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist who still does chemical analysis …. Lundgren glances out the window at the sheep huddled in his pasture and a large flock of geese, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. Then he turns to the deer spleens in front of him. For months, he’s been analyzing them for traces of insecticides called neonicotinoids.

Chemically related to nicotine, neonics, as they’re known, were developed in the 1990s as a safer alternative to more toxic, longer-lasting farm chemicals. They’re now the most widely used pesticides in the world, effective against aphids and leafhoppers and a wide range of worms, beetles, and borers.

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